Sunday, 17 April 2016

Knitting under protest

A protest knit on the Mound, Edinburgh

Protest knitting is well established in Edinburgh.  The pink scene above is from a few years ago now.  My daughter and I chanced upon this protest in action when we were in town one Saturday.  It was very striking, and an expression of soft power that made us stop and think.  My daughter thought from a safe distance while I took the standard embarrassing mum photos closer up.

Lamenting the failed appeal to save Canonmills Bridge from developers

And recently this sign appeared on a nearby bridge.  After a lengthy appeal process, local opposition to the forthcoming demolition of the current bridge and its hugely popular wholefood shop and restaurant has taken the form of a crocheted protest blanket.  I thought it was knitted, such is my ignorance, but I was kindly put right on Instagram that it is in fact crochet. 

Woolly creations are everywhere.  The floral panel below is on display currently in Braemar, having decorated a nearby bridge over the summer. 

Panels by Deeside Nitwits decorated the bridge in Braemar
 Sometimes I feel as if there's no escape from knitting.  It's even out there in sensible hillwalking sort of places like Braemar!  So many bloggers and Instagrammers knit!  And I don't.  I categorically don't -  I'm emotionally allergic to it.  The feel of knitting needles and wool in my hands drives me into a sort of fury.  There's a very good reason for this - the experience of being taught to knit in primary school.  In my small rural school, back in the 1960s, the girls were taught to knit in primary 3, at age 7.  I don't remember now what the boys got to do, lucky things.  Probably hammering nails into bits of wood.  The primary 3 teacher was stern, a noted disciplinarian.  It came as a shock after the two years of infant classes.  The same approach extended to the teaching of knitting.  You might think that the first attempt at this new skill would be something easy - a never-ending scarf, for example.  But we were launched straight away on a two colour tea cosy.  Five stitches one colour, five stitches the other colour.  We kept the balls of wool in jam jars, supposedly to stop them getting entangled.  Mine of course rushed together with a fatal attraction.  A dropped stitch was a major incident - of course I had many major incidents.  The result was that my tea cosy took shape very, very carefully, and very slowly.  Each stitch was pulled tight so that the whole tea cosy squeaked as I pushed it along the needles.  My slow purgatory continued all year, until a month before the end of the summer term when the teacher suddenly realised that if 3 terms = 1 side of tea cosy, 4 weeks was not going to = second side of tea cosy.  So my classmate Jane was deployed to knit side 2.  Jane was a very fast knitter.  Speed came at something of a cost, to my aesthetically critical eye, as her tension was very slack and loopy.  Those of you who are knitters (i.e. everyone) will know where this is going.  My inhibited, cowed half was somehow stitched together with a free and easy, letting-it-all-hang-out thing twice its size.  I'm not sure how it was displayed in the end of term 'show of work' in the classroom.  I remember that it kicked around in the bottom of the kitchen cupboard at home for a few years, along with the hot water bottles and dusters.  Oh, and it was blue and yellow.  Five stitches blue, five stitches yellow.

The following year I have no memory of what we had to knit, except that we had to knit something, and it was very boring and took me the whole year.  Towards the end of the summer term my mother suggested that I might bring it home and do some of it in the evenings (waste of time to my mind, when I could have been off up the hill with the dog, or reading).  This worked well for a few days, until the teacher asked how my knitting was coming along.  Naively I replied, 'Oh it's fine, I should be finished tomorrow night'.  For the sin of Taking My Knitting Home, I received 10 whacks on the hand with a ruler.

And so it continued.  Primary 5, 6, 7.  No memory of what was knitted.  All thankfully erased.  Sewing was a lesser torment at that point, as it involved stitching round and round a square of fawn cloth with holes in it. I'm sure my classmates were moved on to more interesting things - the apron that every 9 year old longs to wear, for example - but I was happy to be labelled 'remedial'.  From Primary 5 onwards I perfected having a book on my lap and reading while very occasionally jabbing the needle into the fawn square on my desk. Very risky, but worth it.

Age 12 and secondary school.  We knitted a polo neck inset.  Not a jersey, you understand, but a disembodied polo neck with a little placket.  This may have been 1971, but even that wasn't in fashion.  Surprisingly I managed it rather well, if slowly and still squeaking, but sewing now took over as the main torment.  We were started off on an A-line nightie.  I remained on the A-line nightie for the rest of the year, while classmates graduated onto the sewing machines and the mysteries of setting in collars.  The problem was the darts, sewn by hand.  I would sew my darts, take my work up to show the teacher, and be sent back to unpick the darts and re-do them.  Again and again. Of course by the end of the year the ghastly thing resembled broderie anglaise, there were so many holes in it.  It was also very, very grubby.  It too ended up with the dusters.  Meanwhile salvation came in the form of Latin the following year, and a timetable that was incompatible with domestic 'science'.  I daresay the domestic science department was relieved too.

So perhaps those of you who 'relax' by knitting will have some understanding of my violent hatred of wool and knitting needles.  I have a very long list of things I plan to do when I leave my workplace of 29 years shortly, and knitting is not one of them.  As to what is, that's for the next post.  And tell me - am I alone?  Are there any other knitting and sewing phobics out there?


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